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Three Things to Know: It’s just one game, but new-look Cavaliers impress

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) New-look Cavaliers impress, blow-out Celtics in first game.
Things looked different — Cleveland actually tried on defense, for one. George Hill was solid defending pick-and-rolls creating turnovers with his length, plus made the extra rotation — and when he did so did J.R. Smith. And LeBron James. The Cavaliers blitzed Kyrie Irving at times, but what was impressive is the guys rotating behind that blitz. All-season long that had been lacking in Cleveland and it led them to have the second-worst defense in the NBA, but on Sunday afternoon in Boston the effort was there.

Combine that with a near triple-double from LeBron James, and 17 from Jordan Clarkson, and you got a Cleveland rout of Boston in the first game for the new-look Cavaliers.

Here is the obligatory “don’t read too much into one game” disclaimer. I want to see what Cleveland looks like after some practices during the All-Star break, and a couple of weeks of games together — and when teams get some scouting reports on them and game plan a little.

But for one game, the Cavaliers where impressive. And it wasn’t just the defense. The Cavaliers dropped 64 points in the first half on the best defense in the NBA this season, then put the game away with an 11-0 fourth-quarter run. It was such an easy win LeBron sat the fourth quarter, a rarity this season. Hill had 12 points and ran the pick-and-roll with LeBron like a veteran (better than LeBron and Isaiah Thomas ever did), Nance brought energy, and the entire thing fit.

Here’s the thing that most should worry the rest of the East — LeBron looked like he was having fun again. He was energized. And an energized and smiling LeBron is a force of nature.

2) Paul Pierce gets his jersey retired by Celtics. After that game — one a lot of Boston fans would have left early had it not been for this — Paul Pierce’s number 34 jersey was retired by the Celtics. Deservedly so. He is the greatest Celtics since the Bird era, and he helped bring another banner to Boston. Check out the highlights here (and if you want to see the entire hour ceremony, follow this link).

3) Utah routs Trail Blazers for a ninth straight win, Utah back in the playoff mix. Rudy Gobert is back and the Jazz defense is stifling, Ricky Rubio has found his comfort level in Quin Snyder’s offense (although he was out Sunday), Donovan Mitchell looks like the Rookie of the Year, and the Utah Jazz are back.

Sunday that was because of Joe Ingles, who dropped a career-high 24 points, then the rookie Mitchell knocking down his final three shots and a few free throws to end the game and cap off a 27-point night. The Jazz opened the second half on a 22-5 run and won the third 38-19 to give them a lead that Damian Lillard (39 points) could not make up. For Utah, it was a good sign that just-acquired Jae Crowder looked comfortable scoring 15 points and going 3-of-7 from three (he had started to find his shot near the end in Cleveland).

This was a huge win in the standings.

Written off a few weeks back, Utah went into Portland Sunday and beat the Trail Blazers handily 115-96. The win improves the Jazz to 28-28 and has them just 1.5 points out of the playoffs in the West — there are now only 2.5 games separating six-seed Portland and 10-seed Utah. The bottom of the West is going to be the race to watch — fivethirtyeight.com has Utah with an 89 percent chance of climbing into and making the playoffs (with the Nuggets and Trail Blazers grabbing the other two spots at 64 percent, which would leave the Clippers and Pelicans on the outside looking in).

Watch Joel Embiid’s game-winning dunk lead 76ers past Cavaliers 98-97

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The shots weren’t falling for the Philadelphia 76ers, so they clamped down on defense.

Joel Embiid scored 27 points, including the go-ahead dunk with 13.2 seconds remaining, and Philadelphia held Cleveland without a point for the final 3 1/2 minutes in a 98-97 win over the Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

Josh Richardson added 17 points and Ben Simmons had 15 for Philadelphia, which won despite missing 30 of 38 3-point attempts. Tobias Harris missed all 11 of his 3-point tries.

“You better guard if you’re not going to make shots,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We knew if we were going to do anything, we had to play defense – and defense we played.”

Jordan Clarkson and Kevin Love each had 20 points to pace Cleveland. Collin Sexton added 18 points and Tristan Thompson had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers trailed for most of the contest, but took advantage of Philadelphia’s poor shooting in the fourth quarter, going up by as many as five points on three occasions.

“We gave them life and were in a fistfight,” Brown said. “You can just feel it. We had a chance to discourage them and we didn’t. Certainly a hard-fought game and we’re lucky to get away with it.”

Cleveland led 97-92 with 3:34 remaining after Sexton’s driving layup, but the Cavaliers wouldn’t score again. Harris pulled Philadelphia within 97-94 with a follow layup and then hit a 17-footer on the ensuing possession to make it a one-point game with 1:42 left.

Cleveland had chances to build the lead after that, but Love missed a close-range shot before a shot-clock violation on the Cavaliers’ next possession.

“I think our defense was pretty OK,” Embiid said. “We just didn’t make shots.”

The 76ers were having their own trouble scoring with Richardson and Embiid failing to convert on consecutive possessions.

After a timeout with 26.6 seconds left, Brown called a high-percentage play with Harris finding Embiid close to the basket. Embiid slammed it home to give the 76ers their first lead, 98-97, since early in the fourth quarter.

“It was a great play-call by coach and we did the rest,” Embiid said.

Cleveland had a chance to win it, but Love’s 3-point attempt from the top of the key rimmed out.

“Kevin is a great shooter, not a good shooter,” Cleveland coach John Beilein said. “He took his time but just didn’t nail it. It’s one of many looks I’ll take at that time.”

 

Warriors two-way guard Damion Lee breaks bone in right hand

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Yet another member of the Golden State Warriors is injured, with two-way guard Damion Lee now out because of a broken right hand.

The injury occurred during Golden State’s 122-108 home loss to the Jazz on Monday night. Lee underwent an MRI exam Tuesday morning that revealed a nondisplaced fracture of the fourth metacarpal. The team said he will be reevaluated in two weeks.

“Hopefully just a few weeks,” coach Steve Kerr said before the team flew to Los Angeles, where the Warriors play the Lakers on Wednesday night.

Lee joins a long list of injured players on the depleted Warriors, who are 2-9 following five straight trips to the NBA Finals.

Stephen Curry had surgery on his broken left hand, which he injured Oct. 30, and will need another procedure next month to have pins removed. He said Monday that he expects to be playing again come spring.

The two-time MVP joins Klay Thompson, who is recovering from a July 2 surgery on a torn ACL in his left knee suffered during Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Thompson could miss the entire season.

Kevon Looney, who is dealing with a nerve issue that has kept him out since a brief appearance in the season opener, is going through more extensive workouts but is still not ready to return, while guard Jacob Evans III is still dealing with a strained inner thigh muscle and also will miss Wednesday’s game. Kerr said he is likely still at least a couple of weeks from playing again.

Backup center Omari Spellman was listed as doubtful to face the Lakers because of a sprained left ankle and already sat out Monday’s loss to the Jazz.

Kerr, who took over coaching the Warriors in 2014-15 and immediately won an NBA championship, has never had this short a bench with so few healthy bodies to mix and match rotations.

“We’ll just see how it plays out,” Kerr said. “We’ll figure out who’s ready to go and we’ll go from there. It’s challenging. It’s been kind of the theme so far. It’s not exactly ideal but it’s the reality. You don’t spend a whole lot of time lamenting anything. You just keep going.”

Bulls big man Cristiano Felicio out 4-8 weeks with broken wrist

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This is not going to impact the Bulls’ rotations — Cristiano Felicio has yet to touch the court for the Bulls this season — but it’s a setback for a player trying to prove he belongs in the NBA.

Felicio fractured his wrist during the Bulls practice Monday and will be out at least a month, reports K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

Cristiano Felicio, who has yet to land on the active roster this season, broke his right wrist after falling in Monday’s practice, according to coach Jim Boylen. The Bulls’ coach said Felicio will miss four to eight weeks with the injury.

“We had the X-ray. It did not show up on the X-ray. Then we had the CT scan and it showed up on the CT scan,” Boylen said. “We’re going to do an MRI (Wednesday) just to let them give us a little more certainty on maybe how much separation there is in there and how much time it will be.”

The Bulls gambled on Felicio a couple of years ago and signed him to a four-year, $32 million contract. That roll of the dice has come up snake eyes so far, with Felicio playing a limited role the first two seasons — and this season no role at all.

It is expected the Bulls will try to use Felicio’s salary in any trade packages they put together closer to the deadline, this injury would not impact that.

Asked about getting stabbed in back, Chris Paul says trade from Rockets

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Chris Paul has gotten traded three times in his career.

New Orleans sent him to the Clippers – but only after David Stern nixed a deal with the Lakers – in 2011. In 2017, Paul engineered a trade to the Rockets by opting in. Then, in an unprecedented star swap, Houston dealt Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook last summer.

Paul recently discussed trades with comedian Kevin Hart.

Hart:

Why is it always such a crazy time when it comes to these trades and whether they’re happening. You’ve been part of some big conversations. Is it at a point where it’s just business, or is it becoming personal?

Paul:

Every situation is different. But the team is going to do whatever they want to do. They’ll tell you one thing and do a smooth nother thing.

Hart:

That’s the business side.

Paul:

Exactly.

Hart:

Do you feel like there’s been times where, “Damn, that’s a little eye-opening. I got stabbed in the back”?

Paul:

Absolutely. This last situation was one of them. The GM there in Houston, he don’t owe me nothing. You know what I mean? He may tell me one thing but do another thing. But you just understand that that’s what it is.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is an easy target right now. Many people around the NBA resent him tweeting support for Hong Kong protesters (who are trying to maintain and expand their freedoms) and costing the league significant revenue in China.

But, in this case, Morey brought it upon himself. He said in June he wouldn’t trade Paul then did so, anyway.

Maybe that was to protect Paul’s feelings if he stayed in Houston. In that case, Morey could tell Paul he believed in him all along. There’d be no way to know Morey was fibbing. Now that Paul is gone, Paul being upset is someone else’s problem. It’s a common tactic by executives.

Paul reportedly requested a trade from the Rockets, but he denied it. I don’t necessarily believe Paul. There was plenty of evidence of tension between him and Harden. It’d be pretty conniving to request a trade then throw Morey under the bus for making the trade.

But Paul’s denial of a trade request is on the record. So is Morey’s declaration that he wouldn’t trade Paul.

Morey must own that.